Amex Sizes Up Africa for Business Meetings
PHOTO: Albert Luthuli Convention Center in Durban, South Africa, a favorite spot for conventions. (Photo by David Cogswell)
While interest in Africa as a leisure travel destination is growing, meetings and events planners are also looking more closely at the continent as a location for business gatherings.
American Express Meetings and Events, a division of American Express Global Business Travel, released the results of a study on attitudes and perceptions of meeting planners on Africa as a destination for meetings and events.
The data indicated that interest in Africa for meetings and events is growing significantly, but that the region still faces serious challenges in attracting the meetings and events industry.
The study, entitled “Emerging Africa: Exploring Meetings on a Changing Continent,” surveyed meeting planners predominantly in North America and Europe but also some in the Asia/Pacific region and in Latin America.
A statement of introduction from Amex said that, “Now more than ever before, there is a desire for businesses to convene in Africa, therefore, an understanding of the continent has become increasingly critical.”
Africa’s growth as a destination for business meetings runs parallel to the growth of business in Africa. “Africa has also become a global hot spot for business development,” said the statement, “with the number of planned hotel openings up 40 percent in 2015 compared to 2013.”
The meetings and conventions industry is increasingly looking toward Africa as a place to conduct events. While event planners have seen Africa as a good destination for incentive travel for a while, their interest in the continent is expanding in regard to the full range of business meetings, including sales/marketing, training, product launches and conferences.
Africa still lags far behind North America and Europe as a destination for meetings and events, but about 40 percent of respondents to the survey reported some activity in Africa.
Respondents to the survey reported that almost 10 percent of their meetings in the last two years took place in Africa. More than half of respondents reported an increase in interest in Africa as a destination for meetings and events. At the same time, they indicated their expectation that the percentage of meetings held in Africa will remain at about 10 percent over the next two years.
Major factors that affect the selection of destinations by meetings planners include having suppliers they know at the destination and the capacity to offer viable air transportation options.
North Africa and Southern Africa emerged as the most popular regions in Africa for meeting planners because of their developed infrastructures and the capacity to offer necessary services, facilities and security.
Awareness continues to be Africa’s largest barrier, and that problem affects the meetings and events industry similarly to how it affects leisure travel. Only 60 percent of respondents claimed any familiarity with North or Southern Africa and even fewer claimed any awareness of West, Central or East Africa.
Meeting planners also expressed concerns about their ability to effectively deal with the issues of visas, contracts or making payments in unfamiliar areas.
Meeting planners, reflecting the tendencies of the population at large, often lump the entire region together and attribute aspects of one part of the continent to the entire continent. Some differences in the regions are observed among meeting planners, however.
How Five Regions Rate
Dividing the continent into five regions, the differences in perceptions and attitudes stack up as follows.
North Africa is seen favorably because of its infrastructure, including hotels, convention centers, technology and facilities.
Southern Africa received the most favorable response of any of the regions, again because of infrastructure and facilities, though some concern over crime and security was expressed.
Meetings planners see Central Africa as interesting for its safari destinations in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Congo, but they do not look favorably upon it as a destination for meetings because of a perceived lack of technology and infrastructure.
East Africa is appreciated for its attractions and meeting planners expressed interest in visiting the region personally, but were less favorable about it as a meetings destination because of perceived safety issues as well as because of the fear of Ebola, though last year’s outbreak was contained entirely in a few countries on Africa’s west coast.
West Africa came in last in terms of favorability in the eyes of meeting planners because of perceptions of substandard infrastructure, crime, terrorism and disease.
More by David Cogswell
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